As he raised his right hand to swear in his newest Battalion Chief, Scott Haggart, Fire Chief Michael Gagnon couldn’t resist a joke. “I have always wanted to say that,” he said in the “state your name here” portion of the oath.
The Derry Fire Department held a promotion ceremony this past Friday to recognize its new Chief, Michael Gagnon, and three other members. Scott Haggart was promoted to Battalion Chief, James Richardson was promoted to Captain and Anthony Rossignol was promoted to Lieutenant before at least 100 proud parents and spouses, scrubbed children, beaming co-workers and other town personnel. There was both laughter and tears as Derry honored four of their own.
Art McLean, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Derry, was master of ceremonies. Before he took the podium, a slide show by Paul MacCallum showed the many facets of a firefighter’s life, from houses aflame to houses saved to chatting with co-workers.
At precisely 4:30 p.m., bagpiper Scott Jackson accompanied the color guard to the front of the room, where they placed the American flag and Derry Fire Union flag in their respective holders. Lt. Chris Williams of the Derry Salvation Army, who with his wife, Kiley, provides chaplaincy services for the department, gave an invocation, thanking God for “the opportunity to recognize these four men for their actions in service.”
McLean recognized Derry state representatives at the ceremony, including Phyllis Katsakiores, John O’Connor, David Milz, John Potucek, Beverly Ferrante and Katherine Prudhomme-O’Brien, along with State Sen. Regina Birdsell of Hampstead. Birdsell took the podium to deliver four Resolutions from the New Hampshire Senate, recognizing each staff member for their service and promotion.
She sketched out mini-biographies for each man, including:
• Gagnon: joining the staff as a firefighter 26 years ago, progressing to Battalion Chief, serving as director of emergency medical services, and volunteer work with the Knights of Columbus and Sonshine Soup Kitchen;
• Haggart, who worked as an EMT (emergency medical technician in Vermont before coming to Derry 20 years ago, his progression to Lieutenant and his work chairing the department Safety Committee and town Safety Committee, along with chairing the department’s Apparatus Committee;
• Richardson, also a 20-year veteran of the department, a long-serving Lieutenant for Battalion 4 at the Central Fire Station, and a 2014 recipient of a master’s degree from Granite State College; and
• Rossignol, who started out with the former East Derry Fire department in 2001 and has taught Driver Training, been part of the Honor Guard and is an Iraq War veteran.
Birdsell took care to recognize the families, who, she said, “sacrificed as much as the men being promoted. They spent much time away from being husbands and fathers, but they have made Derry a better place to be.”
Town Administrator Galen Stearns said, “Today is a recognition of your dedication and service to Fire and Emergency services. You are an asset to the town, and we appreciate your service.”
McLean took the microphone again to say that he has been with the Boys and Girls Club 40 years and was a Town Councilor for six. In that time, he said, “I’ve known all the chiefs since the 1970s. I’ve known scores of firefighters.”
He noted that “this is one of the few professions people start out in and end up in,” noting the longevity of each honoree. In his six years as a Councilor, McLean said, he had never heard one complaint about the Fire Department’s professionalism or service to the community.
McLean addressed the families and particularly the children, saying, “You are so lucky to have dads and husbands like this. They help people every day, and sometimes they even save lives.”
McLean added, “I firmly believe that when we leave this earth, the last thing we’ll be thinking is, ‘How have I made the world better?’ These four men can say they helped someone every day of their lives.”
Town Clerk Denise Neale swore Gagnon in, with Battalion Chiefs Mike Doyle, David Hoffman and Jack Webb looking on. Gagnon swore to promote the best interests of Derry, to be fiscally responsible, honest and loyal, to uphold the Constitution of the United States, the laws of New Hampshire, the charter of Derry and the rules and regulations of the Derry Fire Department.
“I accept my self-imposed and self-enforced obligations, freely and upon my honor,” Gagnon said. His wife, Lisa, pinned on his badge and they were accompanied by their sons Dylan and Sam.
Gagnon in turn swore in Haggart, who was pinned by his wife, Deena, and accompanied by their sons Ryan and Nolan; Richardson, who was accompanied by his children James and Elaina; and Rossignol, who was accompanied by his wife, Tessie, and children Miranda and Jake. Rossignol’s badge was pinned on by his father, Dana, a retired firefighter.
Gagnon honored Lts. Chris and Kiley Williams, who will be leaving Derry for a new assignment at the end of June. The Fire Department works closely with the Salvation Army, calling on them to provide everything from a hot meal to emergency housing – and often in the middle of the night. They provided spiritual as well as material help, Gagnon said, noting, “We see things nobody should see. They are always there if we want to talk.”
Williams accepted the recognition for himself and his wife, noting that “my welcome here was a suicide.” He explained that his first assignment as chaplain was to comfort the family of a person who committed suicide, and that he relied highly on the Fire Department for guidance. He presented each of the honorees with a Firefighters’ Bible.
Gagnon was honored by members of the Firefighters’ Local 4392, who presented him with a fireman’s axe affixed to a plaque. Gagnon admired it and then called out to his wife, “Lisa, remember that spot we were looking for wall art for?”
The ceremony concluded with a benediction by Williams. Secretaries Jayne Gannon and Melina Anzalone had set up a buffet of fruit and cheese in an adjacent room, and the attendees were also invited to a reception at the Halligan Tavern afterward, paid for by the four honorees.
Members of the color guard were Heather Hill, commander, and Rick Robbins, Michael Garone, Michael Lavallee and Brett Scholbe. Other attendees included former Chief George Klauber, Police Chief Ed Garone and Human Resources Director Larry Budreau.